The Ultimate Home Inspection Checklist for Buyers

potential homebuyer and professional inspector following a home inspection checklist

The Ultimate Home Inspection Checklist for Buyers

Buying a new home can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re moving into your first home. That’s what makes the home inspection such an important part of the process.

This guide gives you everything you need to know about your house inspection. It provides a comprehensive home inspection checklist for home buyers so you know everything you need to know before signing off on the purchase.

We’ll start with a few common questions to ensure you know the big picture about your home inspection before getting specific.

Common Questions to Know for a Home Inspection Checklist

What Is a Home Inspection?

A professional home inspection is a comprehensive look at your potential home and property, and it’s an essential step in the home-buying process. A certified home inspector will walk through the steps outlined in the home inspection checklist below, and they will prepare a full report on all their findings.
That report can help you better understand potential problems so you can decide whether to walk away, renegotiate, or fix them yourself after the purchase. Even a new house should have a home inspection.

Pro Tip:

Always hire a licensed home inspector. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) is a great resource to find one near you or the home you’re buying.

Why Do You Need a Home Inspection?

You need an inspection because it helps you uncover potential problems hiding behind the surface. Some, like peeling paint, may be minor. Others, like mold growth, asbestos insulation, or a leaking basement, could require significant repairs and remediation.

Home inspections can also be contingencies in your seller contract. That means even if you sign, the actual sale will be contingent on the home inspection not finding any major issues.

Pro Tip:

Never buy a home without a home inspection. It helps you get a clear picture of exactly what you’re getting into.

What If the Home Inspector Finds a Problem?

No house is perfect, so the inspection report will likely uncover at least a few problems. Some, like getting rid of wasps, are relatively minor and might be something you want to take on. Others could be more problematic and require extra conversations with the seller.

With any type of problem in the home inspection checklist, you have a few options as the potential home buyer:

  • Don’t fix it immediately. Instead, wait until the house is yours and repair it your preferred way on your own dime.
  • Ask the seller if you can fix the problem before they sell the house to you (not recommended).
  • Ask the seller to pay for and fix the problem before the house is sold.
  • Renegotiate the purchase price of the house based on the amount it takes to fix the problem.
  • Walk away from the house because the problem is too worrisome or significant to fix.

Pro Tip:

Your real estate agent and home inspector are two great resources for understanding the severity of a problem. Ask for their recommendations on what steps to take.

What Does a Home Inspection Report Look Like?

The report you receive from your inspector will likely provide a comprehensive overview of every area checked, which matches up closely with the new home inspection checklist below. Each area will include both a written description and images of the topic in question.

Expect to receive the report within 3-4 days after the inspection has taken place. These home inspection report samples by the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors are a great resource to help you know what to expect.

Pro Tip:

Go over the home inspection checklist (and the report) with your inspector. They’ll be happy to point out potential problems as they find them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either.

What Are the Most Important Items on the House Inspection Checklist?

Look out for these home inspection red flags as you receive and understand the report:

  • Pests, especially those (like termites) that might compromise the structure of the house
  • Mold, which isn’t just harmful in itself but can also be evidence of water damage
  • Roof integrity, which is one of the most expensive things in your home to repair and replace
  • Chimney damage, particularly if it’s bad enough to be a fire hazard
  • Air quality, especially when it’s due to radon or mold
  • Electrical damage, whether it be outdated wiring or not enough voltage
  • Foundation damage, which can cost $10,000 or more to repair

Each of those might be deal-breakers if the sellers aren’t willing to renegotiate or pay for the repairs themselves.

Pro Tip:

Always ask about the extent of the damage and whether it has been treated. Evidence of past termite damage in the wood is not as significant as active termites still damaging that wood, although both require remediation just to be safe.

How Should I Prepare for a Home Inspection?

You can take a few simple but important steps to prepare for the home inspection:

  • Hire a qualified inspector with good references or at your agent’s recommendation.
  • Determine a specific time and place for the inspection.
  • Get a seller’s disclosure statement before the inspection to know where to take a closer look.
  • Request easy access to all spaces, including the roof, attic, basement/crawlspace, and more.

Pro Tip:

Let the seller know when the inspector is coming. That gives them fair warning to clear the space and take care of any minor issues (such as a broken lightbulb) beforehand.

The Ultimate New Home Inspection Checklist

Let’s move on to the meat of the issue: the home inspection checklist. Most home inspection reports use a checklist similar to the one below, although some home inspection checklists may organize the line items slightly differently. While you can check all of these yourself during a DIY inspection process, it’s best to work with a professional inspector who knows exactly what they’re looking for.
Your home inspection needs to cover:

  • Grounds and Property
  • Structure
  • Exterior Surfaces
  • Windows, Doors, and Trim
  • Roof
  • Attic
  • Interior Rooms
  • Kitchen
  • Bathrooms
  • Basement/Crawl Space
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical Systems
  • Heating/Cooling
  • Miscellaneous

Let’s look at each of these home inspection checklist items in more detail.

Home Inspection Checklist: Grounds and Property

Most inspections likely start with a close look at the larger property and how the grounds are being kept. The focus here is not the look of the landscaping (check out our landscaping tips for beginners), but how the property might influence the physical and structural health of the home.
The inspector’s checklist for the grounds will likely look something like this:

  • Is the water from your roof and walls draining properly away from the house?
  • Is the ground right next to the wall properly graded to manage water flow and avoid water puddling right by the foundation?
  • Are there any soggy areas, or evidence of past standing water, that might indicate otherwise?
  • Does the septic tank or leach field (if the home has one) show evidence of a current or past leak?
  • Are the driveway and walkway in good condition, or do they hide potential tripping hazards?
  • Are the trees planted far enough away from the home to avoid infringing on it?
  • Do any tree branches or bushes hang over the roof or touch the house?
  • Is there any evidence of termite damage (past or present), either in the house’s structural beams or any surrounding woodwork?
  • Does the wood that was used to construct the home show any evidence of rotting?
  • Are any stairs into the home or on a deck properly secured with railings and in good shape?

Pro Tip:

Pay special attention to the drainage around the house. Too often, great-looking landscaping actually hides what might be a serious problem for your building’s foundation.

Home Inspection Checklist: Foundation

inspector looking inside a crawlspace

The structure of the house might just be the most important checkpoint in the home inspection. If there are major issues here, chances are you’ll want to walk away from the purchase altogether. The repairs will likely be too expensive to make this home buy worth your budget.

Qualified home inspectors can discern a lot about the home’s structural condition with a few strategic looks. Their home inspection checklist will likely look something like this:

  • Are there any visible cracks or shifts in the foundation at its base, both from the inside and the outside?
  • Do the sides of the house appear to be straight and level, or do they seem to be bowing?
  • Are the windows and doorframes square, or do they appear to be bowing?
  • Do the ridge and fascia board lines appear to be straight and level, or are there significant irregularities?
  • Does the masonry work on the foundation show any visible flaking or broken components?
  • Are there any visible tree or plant roots that are getting too close for comfort on the foundation?

Many of the checks on the roof, inside, and exterior walls can bring further hints of potential structural damage. Your inspector may categorize them in their own section, as we’ve done here, or put them all together in a structure section.

Pro Tip:

Even before the home inspection, you can take a few quick steps yourself to understand the shape of the home’s foundation. Try to open all doors and windows. If they don’t open easily, or get stuck, the home is no longer square due to a shifting foundation.

Home Inspection Checklist: Exterior Surfaces

Beyond the foundation, the exterior also offers a good opportunity for the home inspector to look for potential damage on exterior surfaces. Some of this damage may be cosmetic, while other issues point to deeper-lying problems. A qualified inspector will know what category your home falls into.
As part of their walk-through, they’ll look to answer the following:

  • Does the home have enough clearance between the ground and any wooden cladding (6″ minimum)?
  • If your home has siding, are any of the siding panels cracking, curling, or loose? Do some of them show decay?
  • If your home has stucco, does it show large cracks?
  • Does the exterior paint look to be in good shape, or is it peeling or stained?
  • Are the gutters and downspouts firmly attached to your home, or do they seem to be loose?
  • Is there any dangling wiring that could be evidence of further problems?
  • Do any potentially harmful vines grow on the surface of the structure that could compromise its structural integrity?
  • Is there any asbestos in the exterior siding or cladding?

Pro Tip:

Ask for a general assessment/opinion when the inspector is on-site. Many of the problems found in this step are easy to spot for the professional eye and might give you a hint of what’s to come in the report.

Home Inspection Checklist: Windows, Doors, and Trim

Windows and doors, of course, matter for more than just structural damage. Your home inspection checklist will likely also include a few pieces that check specifically for insulation, quality, and general shape of these openings that let light (and potentially air) into your home:

  • Are the wood frames and trim pieces secure, and is the wood in good shape?
  • Are the joints around window and door frames thoroughly caulked to make them airtight?
  • Does each of the windows have a drip cap installed above it?
  • Are any of the windows or screens damaged, even if just one panel of a double-paneled window is broken?
  • Is the glazing compound used to repair or improve any old windows in good conditions?
  • Are single-pane windows supported through storm windows for the winter?
  • Does the garage door have intact weatherstripping?

Pro Tip:

Damaged windows can be a blessing in disguise as you’re buying the home. The seller may be willing to contribute to newer replacements, which are likely to be much better insulated and will help with your heating and cooling bills.

Home Inspection Checklist: Roof

Naturally, you want the roof above your head to actually prevent rain and water from coming in. Checking to make sure that is the case is actually surprisingly complex. Prepare for the home inspector and the report to answer these questions:

  • What is the overall condition of the roof?
  • Does the roof have any patching, and does the patching look like it might be compromised?
  • Is the chimney in good condition, especially on the flashing where it should seal into the roof?
  • If the roof has composition shingles, do they curl or cup? Does the roof still have enough granulation particulate?
  • Are there any broken, damaged, or missing shingles that might need to be replaced?
  • For flat roofs or flat parts of the roof, is there any standing water or other indicator of improper drainage?
  • Is all flashing around roof penetrations completed to code and watertight?
  • Are the roofing vents clear and clean, and not covered or painted over?
  • Do the gutters look to be in good shape, and does water drain well through them? Are all of their joints sealed?

Pro Tip:

Through a seller disclosure or other documents, try to find out when the roof was last replaced, Most composite shingle roofs last about 20 years, after which they begin to decay naturally.

Home Inspection Checklist: Attic

In your attic, the inspector will be able to check what the roof looks like from the inside. It’s also a great spot to check for other problems that may show up in the rest of the house. A typical attic home inspection checklist will include questions like:

  • Is there any evidence of damage to the structure, past or present?
  • Are there any stains on the underside of the roofing?
  • Is the insulation properly installed, and is there enough of it to adequately keep heat levels consistent?
  • Is there consistent ventilation in the attic, particularly through soffit vents and gable end louvers?
  • Do any plumbing or exhaust vents terminate in the attic when they should lead to the outside?
  • Is there any evidence of mold on any of the attic surfaces?
  • Are exhaust vents wrapped with insulation that is up to code, or more problematic materials like asbestos?

Pro Tip:

Ask about evidence of pests in your attic. Your home inspector is not an exterminator. But they will take a cursory look at any rodent droppings or wasp nests and potentially recommend calling in a specialist for a closer look.

Home Inspection Checklist: Interior Rooms

Finally, it’s time to take the home inspection inside of the home. The below is a home inspection checklist for all interior rooms, although many home inspectors consider kitchens, bathrooms, and basements (finished or unfinished) as separate sections. Typical questions include:

  • Are there any strange odors that may point to an underlying problem?
  • Do the floors, walls, and ceilings appear to be straight and level?
  • Do the floors, walls, or ceilings have any stains that might be evidence of mold or water damage?
  • Are the flooring materials in good condition, or do they need to be replaced?
  • Are there any cracks in the walls or ceilings that may point to a problematic foundation?
  • Does the home show sufficient ventilation throughout each room?
  • Does each area of the home have the required number of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and are they easy to access?
  • Do all interior doors open easily and latch properly for easy access?
  • Do the walls seem to be properly insulated?
  • Does the fireplace look to be in good condition, or does it show any cracking or backdrafting?
  • Are all stairway treads, risers, and railings solid and in good condition?

Pro Tip:

Ask about the “why” for each of the above elements. These are the rooms in which you’ll spend much of your time, so understanding the signs of potential problems can be a great help for new homeowners.

Home Inspection Checklist: Kitchen

For most home inspectors, the kitchen gets extra attention. This is where both water and electricity come together while food is being prepared, so it’s not an area where you want to find major problems. Expect answers to questions like:

  • Is there any evidence of leakage in or around the sink?
  • Does the cabinet floor under the sink show any evidence of leaks or mold?
  • Is the water pressure at least adequate to supply your sink and dishwasher?
  • Does the stove have an exhaust fan, and is it properly vented to the outside?
  • Are all electrical outlets within six feet of the sink GFCI outlets to prevent potential shortages?
  • Does the dishwasher drain properly without leaks?
  • Does the garbage disposal operate properly, and is there any evidence of rust?
  • Are all cabinets in good condition, with the doors and drawer operating as desired?
  • What is the age and condition of all appliances included in the sale?

Pro Tip:

If there are any appliances included in the sale, make sure you know their age and condition. That helps you decide whether or not you should budget for a replacement.

Home Inspection Checklist: Bathrooms

professional inspector checking the plumbing in a house on the market

Like the kitchen, the bathroom is one of the most important interior areas to be inspected and often gets its own section. Your home inspector will look to answer many questions that are very similar to the kitchen, including:

  • Do all toilets operate properly, both flushing and refilling the water?
  • Is the toilet installed properly, without any rocking that might point to inadequate sewage connections?
  • Does the bathroom include proper ventilation, including an exhaust fan that ends outside, not the attic?
  • Do all water fixtures have enough water pressure to be sufficient, and do they drain properly?
  • Are the cabinet floor and piping under the sink in good condition, and do they show any evidence of mold or leakage?
  • Does any of the metal in the bathroom show any signs of rust?
  • Is the caulking in good condition, both inside and outside the tub and shower area?
  • Are all tub or shower tiles secure, or do any of them seem loose?
  • Are there any stains or evidence of past leaking around the base of the bath or shower?

Pro Tip:

Consider each of the potential problem areas in the bathroom very carefully. On the one hand, a few simple improvements can significantly increase both the appeal and value of your home. On the other hand, evidence of problems like leaks could point to much bigger problems.

Home Inspection Checklist: Basement/Crawl Space

The counterpart to your attic, the basement (whether it’s finished or just a crawl space), will likely receive special attention from the inspector. It can provide important clues for the health of the entire home, and often shows what some of the more finished spaces above it hide. Expect answers to the following questions:

  • Is there any evidence of moisture in the basement?
  • If foundation elements are exposed, are there any stains or major cracks that could point to problems?
  • On the structural beams and wood joists, is there any potentially concerning evidence of sagging, damage, decay, or stains?
  • Does any of the wood show evidence of insect damage?
  • Are all sills properly attached to the foundation with anchor bolts?
  • Does the basement have proper ventilation?
  • Are the following well-insulated?: Rim and band joists, exposed water, waste, and vent pipes, finished/heated areas of the basement.
  • Is there any evidence of moisture damage or mold growth that might be concerning?
  • What are the radon levels in your basement, and do they comply with your state’s maximum allowable levels?

Pro Tip:

Many inspectors use the basement as a measuring stick for the entire house. While it shouldn’t be the only thing that matters, it’s an important component of the inspection that you should take very seriously as you make a decision on how to move forward if they find any kind of problem.

Home Inspection Checklist: Plumbing and Electrical Systems

Some inspectors consider these as separate sections, while others group them together. Many of the insights found here are grounds for immediate renegotiation or consideration of another home altogether, especially in older homes. But they’re also among the most likely things a seller might be able to fix. Don’t focus on visible fixtures like faucets; focus on the deeper issues. That includes questions like:

  • Are any of the pipes leaking, rusted, or damaged?
  • Is the water pump in good working condition?
  • Does (and can) the hot water temperature go beyond 125-degree Fahrenheit?
  • Is there any current or past evidence of asbestos used as insulation around pipes?
  • Does the water heater show any evidence of rust? Is it big enough for the hot water needed throughout the house?
  • If the home uses well water, does the water pass any relevant tests?
  • Are there any unusual noises or malfunctions that could be cause for concern?
  • Does each room have enough three-prong electrical outlets, and are they properly grounded?
  • Do the electrical outlets work correctly, with enough electricity current flowing to them?
  • Do all light switches operate as they should?
  • Are there any exposed electrical lines or splices that could be a hazard? Or are all the cords secure?
  • Are any of the breakers or fuses overheating — or in danger of overheating?
  • Is the electrical panel in good shape, and does it have enough amperage to support more than the house currently needs?
  • Are all cables properly attached to the electrical panel?

Pro Tip:

Items like an electrical panel or water heater are prime opportunities for renegotiating. Their replacement cost is typically reasonable, and the seller will likely be unable to sell the house without that replacement.

Home Inspection Checklist: Heating/Cooling

Finally, the home inspection will likely include a close look at the house’s heating and cooling system. That might look very different depending on what type of heating/cooling you have, from whole-house air to hot water heating. That said, most questions look like the below:

  • Does every room in the home have enough airflow to be vented properly?
  • Does each habitable room have proper heating and cooling sources?
  • How old is the furnace?
  • How old is the HVAC system?
  • Does the furnace appear to be in good shape, or does it show any evidence of rusting or decay?
  • Does the cooling unit outside the home (for whole-house air) appear to show any evidence of rusting or decay?
  • Do all airflow areas have proper air filters installed, and have the filters been recently replaced?
  • Is there any evidence of a gas leak, such as an odor or measurable gas levels in the air?
  • Is all ductwork in good condition and sealed adequately?

Pro Tip:

Look beyond the obvious. A house without whole-house air conditioning might actually be better than one with an old HVAC unit that might cost thousands of dollars to replace.

The Home Inspection as Part of a Larger Home-Buying Process

As you might have guessed from the above checklist, a home inspection is likely your most comprehensive evaluation of the home you’re about to buy. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s perfect. Even a professional, well-regarded inspector might miss some problems. They won’t tear out walls, and they might miss hidden issues.

Some home inspectors promise that they’ll pay for items they miss during the inspection, but most don’t. That said, if the inspection misses a big structural problem, you might want to press them on the issue anyways. As always, your real estate agent is a good source of potential next steps.

If you made passing a home inspection a contingency on your offer, that’s a great strategy for making sure you can feel safe in your future new home. Ultimately, of course, the home inspection is just part of the larger equation, and you can use the findings to make the right decision for you and your family.

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